No disrespect for UK, just passion for the Classic

April 11, 2011 

Daniel Orton and Jon Hood, as University of Kentucky recruits, were teammates in the 2009 Derby Festival Basketball Classic.

At issue | Feb. 26 Herald-Leader article, "No Blue, but blue-chippers abound; organizers still trying to fuel Cat fever"

I apologize to University of Kentucky President Lee T. Todd Jr., Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart and the men's basketball coaching staff for the March 1 e-mail I directed to them, which was reported by the media. I should have used a different method of communication to vent my frustration.

The e-mail in question reflected my unbridled enthusiasm for the Derby Festival and particularly for its Basketball Classic. I served as a festival board member for 14 years, as chairman of the basketball game for two years and for the past 20 years as the Classic recruiting chairman. In 2005, I was honored to serve as chairman of the entire festival during its 50th year celebration.

I believe that the Classic, which will be played April 22 in the Yum Center, is indeed the equal of any all-star game in the nation. The activities the players enjoy, the hospitality they and their families receive from festival staff, as well as their exposure to the Muhammad Ali Center, to Churchill Downs, to the Hillerich & Bradsby bat factory and to the city of Louisville make their participation a memorable experience.

In my view, the absence of the signed recruits from the University of Kentucky will jeopardize the continuing existence of the Derby Classic.

I recognize that Coach John Calipari has the right to suggest or encourage where his recruits play, including the Jordan Brand Classic, sponsored by Michael Jordan. All coaches with whom I have been associated exercise that privilege.

However, former UK Coach Joe B. Hall recently suggested on the Joe B. and Denny Show that UK recruits should enjoy the national stage at the McDonald's All-American game, as well as show respect to the local fans who will support them during their college years by playing in the Derby Classic as their second all-star game — the maximum permitted under current NCAA regulations.

I emphatically agree.

My perception of undue influence by the shoe manufacturers in the college recruiting process, including the all-star games, has always been of concern. The NCAA should recognize that the two-game limit enhances this undue influence. I also firmly believe the NCAA has no jurisdiction to legislate how a high school senior spends extracurricular time. But for this pointless rule, there would have been no issue regarding the participation by the UK recruits in the classic.

Finally, I hope Herald-Leader readers will understand that this is not a University of Louisville vs. University of Kentucky issue.

I am a graduate of the University of Kentucky School of Law, a UK Fellow, a member of the UKAN legislative delegation, a member of the K Fund, a season ticket holder in basketball and football, and a very avid Kentucky fan for 50 years.

I will continue to be an avid fan of the university and its athletic programs and will also continue to do what I can to enhance the stature of the Derby Classic, an event for which I have great pride.

Dan L. Owens, a Louisville attorney, is chairman of the Derby Festival Basketball Classic.

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